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BLACK SABBATH

Black Sabbath

 

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4.19 | 585 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars On the 13th day of the 13th month (a cold Smarch day) of 1970, Black Sabbath debuted at #13 on the British rock album charts, a contrivance that naturally built up the mystique around the group and album even further than it would have otherwise been. Fortunately, it didn't really need that extra bit of artificial marketing power, as it's still a good album in its own right. Regardless of my general complaints about how the evil persona of the band was just a matter of playing on silly superstitions, I still have to acknowledge that the band played on them extremely well, as this is easily one of the gloomiest, darkest rock albums that had been made to date. It's largely based in the blues, which isn't surprising given the success of Led Zeppelin and Cream in the time when this would have been recorded, but it treats the blues in a dark, disturbing way that neither of those bands (nor really any others) had really considered before.

Of course, the opening title track has almost nothing to do with the blues, but instead seems to come from the very depths of hell itself. It almost seems ridiculously over-the-top to me in a lot of ways, from the opening distant chimes (with the sounds of rain and thunder, no less) to the three-note tri-tone riff that must have horrified every protestant minister in the UK and the USA, but it's over-the-top in a way that I like. Ozzy's voice is much much deeper than it would be starting with the very next album, but it only adds to the gloom and despair and all that rot. He sounds rather emotionless to me, to tell the truth, but I think that actually helps things here somewhat; it gives an eerie feeling of detachment in the "narrator" portions of the lyrics, and gives a lobotomized horror movie feel to the "OH NO NO PLEASE GOD HELP ME" parts. Add in what I consider very tasteful and moody drumming in the 'main' parts, and an absolutely killer fast part that climaxes in an ending jam, and you have what just may be my very favorite Black Sabbath song.

The rest of the album doesn't really reach "classic" status, but most of it is at least good, and some parts come close to great. A relative highlight comes at the end of side one in the form of "N.I.B.," which everybody assumed stood for "Nativity in Black" but (according to rumor) is supposedly just a reference to Bill Ward's "nibbish" (pointy) beard. The lyrics are rather stupid in their "deeeeuuhhrr I'm Lucifer" vibe, but the riff is really great, and the way Ozzy mindlessly sings a vocal melody that matches the riff (a regular Sabbath trait) gives it a decent intensity. The only significant problem I have with it, truth be told, is that it's not heavy enough: combined with the guitar tone they'd have in the next couple of years, it would absolutely rule, but here it sounds a little more empty than I'd like. Plus, where Ozzy's flat delivery was to the benefit of the title track, it kinda hurts things here (for a comparison, check out Dio's vocals on the Live Evil version of the track).

As for the rest of the album, a lot of it contains, in addition to the already mentioned blues elements, a pinch of pop and jazz elements. Quite a bit of it sounds somewhat like, as is mentioned by tons of reviews of the album, the very earliest incarnation of Jethro Tull, which isn't completely surprising given that Iommi was their guitarist for a very brief time in 1969. For some reason, "N.I.B." is put on the same CD track as "Behind the Wall of Sleep," a silly little "moody" bluesy guitar-vocal call-and-response that is nonetheless quite a bit of fun to listen to (it's reasonably heavy in parts). Furthermore, the 36-second jazzy introduction to this song, entitled "Wasp," is on the same track, but listed as a separate song. Not only that, but a 20 second bass solo called "Bassically" (har har har) connects "Wall of Sleep" and "N.I.B." ... whatever. Anyway, the blues-poppy elements are most prominent in "The Wizard," which has amazingly bad lyrics but is a fun singalong regardless, and in "Wicked World," which plays off of "Wild Child" (by the Doors) in the verses and has a part where Iommi successfully goes for atmosphere by playing a bunch of notes really really fast. Not amazing, but enjoyable.

The first 25 minutes of the album, truth be told, are basically terrific, and I'd probably give the album the title of "best Sabbath album" if the rest of the album lived up to it. Unfortunately, the end of the album consists of the 14-minute "A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning," which is not exactly the easiest thing to sit through. The moody introduction, with Ozzy singing over a sombre acoustic pattern, is nice, but then the band sets out to pioneer an aspect of heavy metal that hadn't yet been dealt with; the endless in- studio guitar jam. I like parts of it, even if Iommi isn't exactly an awesome soloist, but holy cow it gets tedious after about 7 minutes or so, and it just keeps going and going. I can see where some might love it, but while I can sometimes enjoy things like this in a live setting, I'm not really up for this kind of jamming in the studio (even if it is often two different solos, one coming out of each speaker, which is kinda neat).

That weakness aside, the album is pretty terrific. If I was a bigger fan of Iommi's guitar solos and of this kind of music in general, I'd probably worship this album. As is, I still like it, and think all fans of rock music in general should like it too. Unless you're 100% Puritan, pick it up.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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